Ever since the conservative court of appeals in Washington D.C. delivered an extraordinary ruling last October, vacating one of the only convictions in the military commission trial system introduced for prisoners at Guantánamo, it has only been a matter of time before other appeals would be lodged.
Last Tuesday, November 5, the first man convicted in the trials — the Australian citizen David Hicks, who agreed to a plea deal in March 2007, on the basis that he would be returned to Australia to serve a seven-month sentence — lodged an appeal with the US Court of Military Commission Review, “arguing for a summary dismissal of the conviction,” as the Sydney Morning Herald described it, “because the offence was not a war crime at the time Mr. Hicks was detained, and his guilty plea was made under duress because of his detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo.”
Just seven convictions have been secured in Guantánamo’s military commission system (between March 2007 and February 2012), which has struggled — and failed — to achieve any kind of credibility since George W. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, ill-advisedly dragged the commissions from the history books in November 2001. Ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, they were then revived by Congress, and revived by Congress a second time under President Obama in 2009, despite warnings by senior administration lawyers that convictions would almost certainly be overturned on appeal. Read the rest of this entry »
So it’s official, then. Eleven and a half years after the “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo, the maximum number of prisoners that the US military intends to prosecute, or has already prosecuted, is 20 — or just 2.5 percent of the 779 men held at the prison since it opened in January 2002.
The news was announced on Monday June 10 by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo, and it is a humiliating climbdown for the authorities.
When President Obama appointed an inter-agency task force to review the cases of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, which issued its report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 36 of the remaining prisoners should be tried.
Just five of the 36 have since been to trial — one in the US, and four through plea deals in their military commissions at Guantánamo. Another man — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul — had already been tried and convicted, in the dying days of George W. Bush’s second term, and two others had been sent home after their trials — David Hicks after a plea deal in March 2007, and Salim Hamdan after a trial in July 2008 — making a total of 39 prosecutions, or intended prosecutions, after eleven and a half years of the prison’s existence. That was just 5 percent of the men held throughout Guantánamo’s history, but now that figure, which was, in itself, an extremely poor reflection on the efficacy of the prison and its relationship to any acceptable notions of justice, has been halved.
As Reuters described it, Brig. Gen. Martins explained that the number set by the task force was “ambitious” in light of two rulings last October and in January this year by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »
The invented war crime is “providing material support to terrorism,” and on October 16, 2012, a panel of three judges in the D.C. Circuit Court (the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.) threw out the conviction of Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, who had received a five and a half year sentence for “providing material support to terrorism” at the end of his trial by military commission in August 2008 (although he was freed just five months later, as his sentence included time already served).
In its ruling, the court stated, “When Hamdan committed the conduct in question, the international law of war proscribed a variety of war crimes, including forms of terrorism. At that time, however, the international law of war did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime.”
For anyone who has followed the history of the military commissions in any depth, the result was not completely unexpected. Revived by the Bush administration in November 2001, specifically for trying prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” the commissions were struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2006, but were then revived by Congress, when “providing material support to terrorism” and “conspiracy” were included as war crimes, even though there was no precedent for doing so. Read the rest of this entry »
Eleven years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the majority of the remaining 168 men in Guantánamo are not held because they constitute an active threat to the United States, but because of inertia, political opportunism and an institutional desire to hide evidence of torture by US forces, sanctioned at the highest levels of government. That they are still held, mostly without charge or trial, is a disgrace that continues to eat away at any notion that the US believes in justice.
It seems like an eternity since there was the briefest of hopes that George W. Bush’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo would be shut down. That was in January 2009, but although Barack Obama issued an executive order promising to close Guantánamo within a year, he soon reneged on that promise, failing to stand up to Republican critics, who seized on the fear of terrorism to attack him, and failing to stand up to members of his own party, who were also fearful of the power of black propaganda regarding Guantánamo and the alleged but unsubstantiated dangerousness of its inmates.
The President himself also became fearful when, in January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he himself had appointed, and which consisted of career officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies, issued its report based on an analysis of the cases of the 240 prisoners inherited from George W. Bush (PDF). The Task Force recommended that, of the 240 men held when he came to power, only 36 could be prosecuted, but 48 others were regarded as being too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, the eyes of the world were on Guantánamo, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning and facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash — appeared in a courtroom for the first time since December 2008. All were dressed in white, apparently at the insistence of the authorities at Guantánamo, and most observers made a point of noting that Mohammed’s long gray beard was streaked red with henna.
For the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the five men’s appearance — for their arraignment prior to their planned trial by military commission — was supposed to show that the commissions are a competent and legitimate alternative to the federal court trial that the Obama administration announced for the men in November 2009, but then abandoned after caving in to pressure from Republicans. The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder — one for each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks — as well as charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Unfortunately for the administration, the omens were not good. The military commissions have been condemned as an inadequate trial system ever since the Bush administration first resurrected them in November 2001, intending, in the heat of post-9/11 vengeance, to use them to swiftly try and execute those it regarded as terrorists. However, after long delays and chaotic hearings, this first reincarnation of the commissions was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions were then revived by Congress a few months later, and were then tweaked and revived by President Obama in the summer of 2009, despite criticism from legal experts. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday, I was delighted to be asked by Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio to discuss the ongoing shame of a world in which the prison at Guantánamo continues to remain open for business. The springboard for our interview was last week’s plea deal in the trial by military commission of Majid Khan, a Pakistani and former US resident, who was held for three and a half years in secret CIA prisons, where he was subjected to torture, after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, and has been held in Guantánamo, with 13 other supposed “high-value detainees,” since September 2006. His plea deal is noteworthy because it indicates that Khan will be a witness in the trials of other, much more significant figures than himself — specifically, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The interview is here, but in the end Scott and I spent most of our 18-minute interview discussing my visit to Kuwait, and also the detention situation in Afghanistan. I was very glad that Scott had asked me about my visit to Kuwait, as it had been such a great insight into the background of the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and the context of their capture.
I wrote about that visit here and here –and videos of a TV show I took part in with the attorney Tom Wilner are here — and Scott provided me with a great opportunity to discuss the exaggerated fears about releasing prisoners, and the outstanding problems for the majority of the men still held — the fact that the US government continues to rely on fundamentally unreliable evidence (the man who claimed that Fayiz was a spiritual advisor to Osama bin Laden, for example, was the most notorious liar in Guantánamo), and the fact that, even if people had been in Afghanistan as foot soldiers for the Taliban, that is not the same thing as being involved in international terrorism. Moreover, in the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, although both men lost their habeas corpus petitions, nothing resembling proof was actually provided to demonstrate that they had ever been involved in any anti-American activities. Read the rest of this entry »
Guantánamo briefly emerged from the shadows on Wednesday, when Majid Khan, a Pakistani national described as one of 14 “high-value detainees” when he arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006, after three and a half years in secret CIA prisons, appeared in public for the first time since his capture almost nine years ago.
Khan, now 32, pleaded guilty to five charges — conspiracy, murder and attempted murder in violation of the law of war, providing material support for terrorism and spying — as part of a plea deal designed to help him avoid spending the rest of his life imprisoned, and to help the US authorities to prosecute other “high-value detainees” also held in Guantánamo.
A resident of Baltimore from 1996 onwards, Khan was granted asylum in 1998, graduated from high school in 1999, and was working in computing when, in January 2002, he traveled to Pakistan, was introduced to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the “high-value detainee” who stated in his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2007 that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and apparently became involved with al-Qaeda until his capture at his home in Karachi on March 5, 2003. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Thursday, February 16, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” received a life sentence in a courtroom in Detroit. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, had tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, receiving serious burns when the bomb failed to detonate.
After he was apprehended, he was read his Miranda rights, and interrogated non-coercively by the FBI, but this was not acceptable to supporters of torture, who proceeded to demonstrate that a new phase of fearmongering and paranoia was opening up in what should, by then, have been the dying days of the “war on terror.”
In this new spirit of hysteria, the discovery that he had been recruited for his failed mission in Yemen led to a chorus of demands that no more Guantánamo prisoners should be released to Yemen — from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), and even Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who told Politico, “In terms of sending more of them to return to Yemen, it would be a bit of a reach. I’d, at a minimum, say that whatever we were about to do we’d at least have to scrub it again from top to bottom.” Read the rest of this entry »
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